As kids, my siblings and I whined. (Some of us still do.) We cajoled. We stomped our feet on occasion, and got a little lippy with our mother on others. So what does a tired, overworked single mom say to her freckled brood when she needs to check the small people with a laser-effective warning?
Pretty much the same thing I say to my daughters, turns out. Because I often hear her voice coming out of my mouth.
1. “I’m going to count to three…”
When my brother, sister, and I began squabbling loudly over a toy or board game, or accidentally-on-purpose ignored her urgent calls to come inside after the sun had set, we would, like clockwork, hear the countdown that signaled doom for all foolish enough to fail to heed its warning: “One! … two!” We never got to “three,” too terrified to find out what might happen. Now, when my girls similarly test me, and I’ve gone so far as to holler “Two-and-a-half! … Two-and-three-quarters!” I think: “Oh, crap. What am I gonna’ do if they let me get there?” Fortunately, this hasn’t happened yet.
2. “Whoever told you life was fair?”
On an especially funny episode of my favorite show, Louie, comedian Louis CK, playing a fictional version of himself, tells one of his pretend daughters that, no, life isn’t fair, that she will never get the exact same thing as her sister, and that the sooner she learns and accepts this fact, the better she’ll fare. I wanted to email his fan site and ask him if he’d stolen this script from my mother, word for word.
3. “Are your legs broken?”
Sometimes a kid feels lethargic. This is especially true when said child is asked to: a) set the table before dinner, b) run inside and grab my handbag, would you? c) walk the dog, or d) clear the dirty plates when the meal is done. When a delayed response inevitably occurred (back in the 1970s and ’80s), this was my mother’s gold standard. Which, come to think of it, sounds vaguely like a mobster’s veiled threat about exactly what to expect if we didn’t get off our butts and hustle this minute.
4. “This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship.”
There are no votes. There is no equal representation. There will be no further discussion, thank you. Mussolini rules here, and what she says goes.
5. “Don’t make me get the wooden spoon.”
To be fair, while my mother said this frequently, and even waved a baking utensil at us like a weapon Betty Crocker herself might wield, to my knowledge none of us kids ever felt its stinging wrath on our bottoms. We did, however, imagine what its stinging wrath might feel like on our bottoms, and this was enough to curb our misguided ways. I’ve dropped this one from my repertoire, replacing it with the equally effective “Don’t make me take away your device.” Because we moms know what really hurts.
6. “What does the word ‘no’ mean to you?”
No means no. Variations of this theme, including “Exactly what about the word ‘no’ do you not understand?” provided clear boundaries during my childhood. They also taught me to recognize and appreciate dripping sarcasm, a trait I discover I’ve already, fortunately or not, passed on to my two daughters.
(Sniff. It’s a full-circle moment.)